I realized the other day that if one of my nightmare scenarios came true and I were magically transported back to college (or worse yet, high school), I would probably struggle mightily to complete an academic paper. There are some things you don't forget how to do, like riding a bike (theoretically), or opening a Capri-Sun (assuming you could ever do it to begin with). But there are other skills that are more susceptible to atrophy, and I suspect being a student is one of them. I imagine if I were given a list of essay topics and a two-week deadline today, I'd spend the first week trying to uncross my eyes and the second week slowly chewing up the piece of paper with the assignment on it. Like a goat. But with less beard.
In an effort to wriggle out of the rut I've been in since graduating from college, I recently started seeking out professionals in the writing/editing/communications field to pick their brains. (Actually, in an effort to get out of that rut, I've been going to therapy, but that's another story.) In so doing, the thought has occurred to me that I am probably not as prepared for a writing career as I was a few years ago. I've let myself get too lazy, and let the watchful specter of academic expectation vanish from my peripheral vision. Also, I've taken to using very strained metaphors, although now that I think of it, I've always done that, so never mind. One of the people I spoke to, a copywriter for a marketing company, sent me a sample of a test his company gives to potential freelance writers. The test consists of about ten pages of background material on a real IT company and a one-page directive to write...something. A no-risk offer, and white papers, and...copy. I'm not entirely certain, because I kind of blacked out while reading the instructions. That's when the feeling of unpreparedness really hit me.
But something else also hit me on Friday, when I was manning the phones at work for most of the day. I'm not sure if it was a full moon, but everyone I talked to seemed to be bat-shit crazy. Excuse the language, but I don't have a better way to describe it. I had one man with a thick Italian accent lament to me for ten minutes about how he was all alone, had no family, and had just bought a burial plot for himself because he wanted to die so he didn't have to deal with his bills. At one point I asked him if he had an email address, and he responded as if I'd asked him if he wore women's underwear or strangled cats in his spare time. Another old man yelled at me to SPEAK UP as soon as I answered the phone, even though I had hardly gotten a word out of my mouth. A woman called to ask for a field employee who wasn't ever in the office, then refused to tell me who she was or what she wanted. All she would say about the nature of her business with this person was, "It's about the phonecall..."
When I left work on Friday, I felt like I had just left a boxing ring. Talking to people all day is a challenge for me; it's tiring. And as I thought about the nature of that challenge this weekend, I said to myself, 'You know, it's not all that worth it.' It's not the kind of endurance test that makes me feel virtuous at the end. There's slightly more of a forced labor camp feel to it, though I admit that's an extreme analogy. The point is, it's not one of those jobs where at the end of the day I say, "Boy, I'm tired. But I sure feel good about everything I accomplished!"
On the other hand, let's say I sat down again, put on my horse blinders, and slowly tried to make my way through that copywriting exercise, just to test myself. Let's say I slogged through the assignment, dragged myself to the bitter end, and forced myself to learn something new about the business of copywriting in the process. If challenge is going to be an inevitable part of my working life, shouldn't I at least make sure that challenge is ultimately worth it to me?
It's hard to admit it, and it makes me want to roll around on the floor and whine to think about it, but when it comes to writing, and getting things done in general, I am out of practice, and exercise is the only way I'm going to get fit again.